Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Ex-Gaddafi aides banned from office

Libyan interim president Mohammed el-Megarif may be ousted under a new law (AP)
Libyan interim president Mohammed el-Megarif may be ousted under a new law (AP)

Under pressure from armed militias, Libya's parliament have passed a sweeping law that bans anyone who served as a senior official under Muammar Gaddafi during his 42 year-long rule from working in government.

The Political Isolation Law could lead to the dismissal of many current leaders, some of whom had defected to the rebel side during the country's 2011 civil war or had been elected to office since Gaddafi's ouster and killing. The move is likely to further stall the country's already rocky transition to democracy by ousting elected lawmakers.

It injects a new dose of uncertainty into Libyan politics during a still-fragile transition. Liberals say it will give a boost to Islamists, who performed poorly in recent elections compared to their counterparts in other Arab states, although Islamists said they could also be affected by the ban.

The law was partially driven by the unpopularity of Libya's current crop of politicians among many of the still-powerful former rebels who toppled Gaddafi, and others who say little has improved since. Backers of the law say it is necessary to complete the revolution.

But critics say that the law was passed at gunpoint. Militias had surrounded several government buildings in Tripoli last week barring officials from work. Their vehicles mounted with rocket-propelled grenades kept watch on the street during the vote.

Most of the militias have roots in the rebel groups that fought Gaddafi, but their numbers have mushroomed in the two years since his fall. Many of the armed groups have been accused of rights abuses, but the government continues to rely on them to keep order in the absence of a strong police or military. Many militiamen say they mostly want jobs and steady pay.

The General National Congress, Libya's elected parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the law. Out of 200 lawmakers, 169 attended the vote. Deputy head of parliament Juma Attiga, who oversaw the vote, told the TV station Libya Ahrar that militias had pressured parliament to vote in favour of the law, but that he had planned to vote yes in any case. He may be affected since he served as head of a governmental rights group under Gaddafi.

The law highlights the government's inability to rein in armed groups and exposes the many obstacles the North African nation faces in rebuilding its weak central government.

It comes at a time when Islamists are in a position of strength following the Arab Spring uprisings that saw Libya's two neighbours - Tunisia and Egypt - oust long-time autocrats from power. As is the case in all three nations, Islamists and liberals are in a power tussle for control over the direction of their countries.

But unlike Egypt and Tunisia, liberals won big in Libya's first free elections last year. Former rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril's liberal bloc took nearly half of the seats allocated for party lists. The body has a significant numbers of independents allied with Islamist parties.

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